An air purifier is an appliance that filters out pollen, bacteria, mold, and pollutants from the air inside your home.
Often, indoor air can be more polluted than the air outdoors, thanks to volatile organic compounds, dust, smoke, indoor allergens, pets, to name just a few causes of polluted and contaminated indoor air.
If you have allergies, asthma, or sensitive lungs, it can be tremendously hard to breathe in a polluted living space. Fortunately, an air purifier can cure or substantially improve many of these air-related problems.
Additionally, air purifiers can remove smells, stop mold in its tracks, and reduce the spread of bacteria. All of these things are transmitted through the air and can be filtered out by a high-quality air purifier.
We’ve looked in-depth at the technology behind the top air purifier on the market, and we’ve come up with the top ten models.
1. Honeywell True HEPA Allergen Remover
For large rooms or apartments and for heavily polluted areas, Honeywell’s True HEPA Allergen Remover is by far the best choice.
It’s a large, free standing air purifier with a wide range of settings. It can be set to “germ clean” for a whisper-quiet filtration speed that is especially suited for viruses and bacteria, while the medium-speed “general clean” is best for all-purpose air filtration.
“Allergy” uses a high speed setting to quickly trap allergens like pet dander and pollen. Finally, if smoke, smells, dust, or other irritants are filling the air, the filter has a “turbo” mode to remove them as rapidly as possible.
These qualities alone set it ahead of the competition, but Honeywell’s air purifier boasts several additional perks: it can be set to a two, four, or eight-hour timer, and its power indicator light can be dimmed or completely shut off for night-time filtration.
While a cramped bedroom might find its size a bit bulky, it’s still the best choice for most situations, and the only way to go if you have a large, spacious apartment or house.
2. VAVA Air Purifier
VAVA’s air purifier is moderately sized and fairly powerful. With strong motors driving its fans, it can move a large volume of air, making it punch above its weight when it comes to room size.
Its HEPA filter is particularly effective at removing volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, which can evaporate from flooring, paint, and adhesives, and other home construction materials.
The downside of its high-throughput mode is that it is fairly noisy, so while it can handle a large room, a bigger air purifier can do while creating less noise.
3. LEVOIT LV-H132
LEVOIT makes a great air purifier that’s small, compact, and surprisingly powerful for its size. It’s a versatile air purifier that performs well at reducing dander, pollen, smoke, and smells in the air.
It’s a hit among users with small apartment buildings who have neighbors who smoke, thanks to its ability to remove smells and particulates from the air.
It won’t fare very well in a large apartment with high ceilings, or a spacious bedroom in a house, but it’s the best choice for a small room.
4. GermGuardian AC4825
GermGuardian is specially designed for trapping airborne bacteria and viruses. It uses a combination of charcoal filters, a true HEPA filter, and a high intensity ultraviolet light to trap and kill germs that travel through the air.
Because it’s specialized for germs, it doesn’t perform quite as well when it comes to pet dander, dust, and the like. Its small size and lower than average airflow rate means it’s less suited for large rooms or an entire apartment.
Users have found that it doesn’t have the longevity of some of the other models on the market, but still, it performs its task well. It’s a good bedside air purifier to keep your bedroom germ-free.
5. Hamilton Beach TrueAir
Hamilton Beach has a best-selling air purifier that fulfills a niche need: a desk-level air filter.
Designed so it can be placed horizontally on a desk, table, or countertop, this air purifier is smaller than average, but well-suited for environments like an office, study area, or combination kitchen/living room where a larger freestanding air purifier on the floor wouldn’t be a good fit.
The TrueAir is small, compact, and quiet, but it’s not the best choice for a large, open area or a bedroom.
6. Winix 5300-2 Air Purifier
The Winix 5300-2 is a large, freestanding air purifier that’s well-suited for large rooms and very polluted air.
It’s big, bulky, and its boxy shape and sharp edges are a bit unsightly, but it’s one of your few options if you’ve got a large, spacious living area or if you want the ability to clean a lot of air very quickly.
Smaller air purifiers won’t cut it in a big apartment that’s got cigarette smoke wafting up through the air vents, or an old, musty house when you’ve got guests coming over. While it’s neither the prettiest nor the quietest air purifier out there, it does get the job done.
7. Dyson Pure Cool Link
With an ultra-futuristic design and equally futuristic features, the Dyson Pure Cool Link will certainly turn heads.
Acting as a fan in the summer and an air filter in the winter, Dyson’s air purifier has wifi connectivity and will give you a live report on the air quality in your home. Its sleek and eye-catching design does come at the expense of some functionality, though–it’s not going to clean the air as well as some of the bigger, bulkier, and yes, more boring air filters.
The small base of the filter (which is where the filter is hidden) doesn’t provide enough surface area to clean a large volume of air, even though the fan can move a lot of air. It might be a bit more style than substance, but users do love its ultra-quiet operation.
8. PureZone 3-in-1 True HEPA Air Purifier
PureZone is a medium-sized, ultra-quiet air purifier that is one of the few germ-focused filters that specifically uses ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses that are in the air.
It features a timer that can set the unit to run for two, four, or eight hours before shutting off, and it’s whisper-quiet. This makes it great for a bedroom or an office, where a loud fan is likely to be an annoyance.
Likely because of the UV light, some users find it dries out the air, so if low humidity has caused issues for you in the past, this might not be the air purifier for you.
9. Holmes True HEPA Allergen Remover Mini Tower
As one of the few air purifiers that’s compact enough to fit on a table, desk, or counter, the Holmes Mini Tower isn’t even competing in the same category as many of the other air purifiers in our rankings.
It should be obvious from its size–not much bigger than an average blender–that it’s not going to do well in a large room or a very polluted area.
If you want some peace of mind in a small space that’s already fairly clean, it will fare adequately in that role. However, don’t expect it to be able to fully clean the air, even in a small space.
10. GermGuardian AC4100
Using the same technology of GermGuardian’s larger air filters, this tiny model promises to clean the air and kill the germs in a micro-sized package.
Unfortunately, this air purifier falls into the range of models that are too small to do much, even in a fairly small room.
It could act as a “booster” for a room that’s a bit too big for a larger air filter, or as a preventative air filter in a space that’s already got very clean air, but you can more or less forget about cleaning large volumes of dirty air with this model.
Who should buy an air purifier?
Air purification technology can achieve some impressive feats, including removing mold spores, smoke and particulate matter, allergens, and odors from the air.
This versatility makes an air purifier a great purchase for anyone who’s not happy with the quality of air in their home or apartment. Air purification technology was initially developed for industrial processes, where having absolutely pure air was a top priority. These technological advances were brought to consumer-grade devices, making it easy for anyone to have pure, high-quality air where they live.
Air purifiers most often use a two-stage process, where an activated carbon pre-filter removes organic chemicals and larger dust particles. Then, a HEPA filter (high-efficiency particulate arrestance) is used to remove smaller particulate matter from the air. The use of activated carbon pre-filters make air purifiers great for removing odors from pets, mold, or smoke, while the HEPA filter removes pollen, dander, and other allergens, as well as bacteria and smaller particulates from smoke and dust.
As such, air purifiers are incredibly useful if you live in an old house with mold and mildew, or if you live in an apartment where a previous tenant, a roommate, or a neighbor is a cigarette smoker. It’s also great if you have seasonal allergies and have trouble sleeping because of pollen or dander that is in the air in your bedroom.
Closing the windows and using an air purifier is a a great way to get a break from allergens that are in the air. People with lung conditions that are irritated by smoke or pollutants also find air purifiers to be incredibly useful for managing their symptoms.
If you’ve used a cheap air purifier before but been unhappy with the performance, you should give a high-quality one another shot: many lower-cost units use “HEPA-like” filters that do not meet the stringent particulate requirements of a true HEPA filter, or skimp on the activated carbon pre-filter, which is essential for removing organic compounds and odors.
If high-quality air is important for you, you should definitely consider getting an air purifier.
How we ranked
When formulating our rankings of air purifiers, we looked at several metrics of efficiency and quality. First off, we were only interested in air purifiers that use a true HEPA filter at their core.
Many air purifiers are cheap and popular, but don’t effectively filter out smaller particulates from the air. This performance at small particle sizes is especially important for purifying out some of the toughest pollutants in the air, like smoke particles, mold spores, or pollen.
After screening out air purifiers that used a lower quality air filter, we next looked to see if the product included a pre-filter that includes activated carbon. These types of two stage air purifiers are more desirable because the pre-filter helps extend the life of the HEPA filter by preventing larger particles from clogging up the HEPA filter stacks.
More importantly, activated carbon is essential for removing odors and volatile organic compounds from indoor pollutants that can range from paint and adhesive off-gassing in new construction to chemicals in cigarette smoke or odors from bacteria and mold.
After identifying air purifiers that used high quality purification methods, we then weighed the size and the coverage area of the air purifiers that remained. In general, there’s a tradeoff between size and the volume of the room that can be effectively purified by the unit.
The top performing units here were moderately sized air purifiers that were effective across a wide range of room sizes. We recognized, though, that people who live in smaller rooms or apartments may not have the floor space to afford a larger free-standing unit, so we kept a few of the best-performing smaller units in our rankings.
Likewise, if you have large, expansive spaces in your home that need the air purified, a large unit is the way to go. We identified the best among the units that can handle larger volumes of air and provide greater airflow.
Finally, we considered other factors, like the ease of changing the air filter, the availability of modular filter units, and the ability to set timers or control the intensity of the airflow.
We also considered the noise level of the unit—an air purifier is no good if it’s so loud you never want to have it on. By ranking the remaining air purifiers by these criteria, we were left with our final list of the best air purifiers on the market.
Air purifiers clean the air inside your house and alleviate allergies, asthma, and lung irritation. They can also stop the spread of bacteria and viruses, as well as reduce the health risks associated with chronic exposure to air that’s contaminated by mold, smoke, and dust.
As an added benefit, they can leave your home smelling fresh and clean. Air purifiers work by using a series of filters to trap and remove everything from volatile organic compounds to pollen and dander to smoke particulates.
These filters have to be changed every few months, but the benefits in exchange are tremendous.
Indoor air can be dirtier than outdoor air. Many people who live in the city think of their home as a refuge from smog, air pollution, and car exhaust.
However, because the air inside your home is rarely refreshed and cleaned, indoor air can actually contain more harmful compounds than outdoor air. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a wide variety of contaminants can pollute the air inside your house (1).
These can include anything that causes gases, vapors, or particulates to move into the air.
Common culprits include gas-burning stoves, cigarette smoke, paint, scented candles, insulation, and finishing compounds used on furniture and cabinetry to name just a few.
Newer homes are so well-built that the amount of airflow from outside to inside is practically zero, meaning that these compounds are stuck in the air inside your home.
Improving indoor air quality can clear up headaches, itchy eyes, sore throats, and more. Many symptoms of poor indoor air quality can mirror the symptoms of a low-level cold or flu, so if you’ve been feeling chronically under the weather, maybe it’s not an infection–it could be your air quality instead.
According to the American Lung Association, respiratory symptoms that seem chronic, but improve when you get out of the house for several hours might be a sign that your indoor air quality is compromised (2).
This is caused by your body reacting to something in the air inside your home similarly to how it reacts to a bacterial or viral infection–it may produce a sore throat, dryness and itchiness, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and more respiratory-related symptoms. People with asthma may find that their ability to breathe is restricted in a problematic house or apartment.
An air purifier can remove a wide range of indoor air pollutants. A huge range of materials and chemicals can cause indoor air quality problems: dust, dust mites, tobacco smoke, volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, mold spores, bacteria, viruses, pet dander, and pollen round out the list of the most common indoor air irritants.
Fortunately, a good air purifier can remove all of these. Quality air filters use HEPA filtration technology, plus a combination of pre-filtration and activated charcoal filters to remove all types of air pollutants.
The pre-filter, which is usually a fairly porous and fibrous material, stops larger dust particles, fine hairs, and the like. Then, the HEPA filter (high efficiency particulate air) removes the microscopic particles like bacteria and mold spores.
Finally, activated charcoal chemically bonds with gasses like formaldehyde to permanently trap them, removing them from the air.
Some filters take the additional step of using ultraviolet light to directly kill bacteria and viruses. Other filters avoid this because ultraviolet light can also introduce a small amount of ozone into the air, which causes lung irritation and aggravates asthma.
Air purifiers can reduce asthma symptoms. Because asthma is often caused or aggravated by the presence of pollutants in the air you breathe, removing these with an air purifier can improve your symptoms.
Evidence for this comes from a 2010 study on the effects of an air purifier on asthma symptoms in children (3).
The study examined two groups of children, both of which had asthma. The study used a crossover design, meaning that one group used an air purifier for the first part of the study, then the groups switched to see if asthma symptoms were related to the use of the air purifier.
The researchers found that using the air filter decreased the level of particulates and volatile organic compounds by 60-75%, and on top of that, the children had better maximum expiratory flow and decreased symptoms of asthma.
Air purifiers can prevent allergies. If pet dander or plant pollen is aggravating your allergies, an air purifier could be a huge help.
Scientific research backs the idea that air purification can remove allergy-causing irritants from the air in your home. A 2001 study by researchers at the North West Lung Center at Wythenshawe Hospital in the UK examined whether a HEPA air filter could reduce levels of dog allergens in nine homes with dogs (4).
The researchers took air samples over the course of an hour, both on days when no air filter was used in the home and on days when the HEPA air purifier had been running all day.
They found that use of the air purifier reduced levels of dog allergens by over 75%, using an extremely sensitive biological test for the presence of dog dander.
As you probably can imagine, air purification is not a one-off thing. Air is constantly flowing in and out of any given room in your house, even if it’s well-sealed.
Because of this, it’s necessary to run your air filter for a substantial portion of the day—perhaps twelve hours or more. With newer air filters that are more energy efficient, it’s often economical to run the air purifier on a low setting all day long.
To cut down on energy costs, you can turn your air purifier off while you’re away from home, or when you are not in the room.
However, if you are using an air purifier in your bedroom or another room you spend a substantial portion of your day, you’ll want to run the air purifier for at least an hour before you use the room, and continue to run the air purifier while you are using it.
If you have allergies to pollen or to pet dander, you’ll probably need to run your air purifier around the clock, as these allergens are likely to be constantly circulating around your house.
It’s important to pay attention to the indicator lights on your unit that tell you when to replace the pre-filter and the HEPA filter. Pre-filters last around 90 days, while HEPA filters last a few years (though these numbers depend somewhat on usage and how much particulate matter is in the air you’re filtering).
Q: How big of an air purifier do I need?
A: Two factors determine how large or powerful of an air purifier you need: the size of the room and the initial quality of the air. A small room that’s in a fairly new apartment complex doesn’t require much in the way of air purification power, because the volume of air in the room is fairly small, and it’s already pretty clean to begin with.
Many HEPA filters are rated with a certain amount of square footage: a certain air purifier might be rated for, say, 360 square feet. You can use this as a starting point, but if your room has high ceilings, or has very dirty air, a more powerful air purifier might be a smart call.
Mold, mildew, cigarette smoke, or brand-new construction (thanks to the volatile organic compounds that off-gas from construction materials) all call for an air purifier that’d normally be “overkill” for the given square footage.
Q: How often do I have to replace the filter in my air purifier?
A: Modern air purifiers use a multi-level approach to cleaning air. The core of this is the HEPA filter, which rarely or never needs to be replaced.
However, before this, most high-quality filters use a pre-filter combined with activated charcoal to filter off larger particles and volatile compounds. These pre-filters need to be replaced, usually every three to six months or so. Again, though, the specifics of your household may affect this significantly.
A smoky, dust-filled home will need filters a lot more frequently than your average home. Some air purifiers even have sensors that can tell you exactly when you’ll need to replace the filter.
It’s always worth it to stay on schedule with filter replacement; otherwise, you’re just blowing dirty air around your home.
Q: How do I clean my air purifier?
A: If you are moving out of a dirty or smoky apartment, or if your air purifier is just dusty, you’ll want to give it a good wipe-down with a damp cloth.
You should, of course, unplug it before you do this or any other cleaning. Taking a vacuum cleaner to the exterior plastic grill can remove surface dust, but to deep-clean the filtration system, the best way is to just replace the filter.
Some units have permanent HEPA filters that can be vacuumed clean using your household vacuum’s suction hose, while others have HEPA filters that should be replaced every few years.
A new pre-filter and a new HEPA filter, combined with an external vacuuming and wipe-down, should restore your air purifier to factory conditions.
Q: Can my air purifier remove smoke?
A: Not just any air purifier can remove smoke from the air; you need a HEPA filter that uses activated charcoal to pull out many of the toxic compounds in tobacco smoke from the air.
As you might guess, it’s better and safer to not get smoke in the air in the first place–even with a good air filter, levels of smoke won’t be reduced to zero in your home.
That being said, a high quality air filter is far better than nothing. Air purifiers can pull out the particles from smoke that cause lung irritation, and remove the distinctive smell of cigarettes from the air.
Q: Can an air purifier remove mold?
A: Yes, a high-quality air purifier is an excellent way to trap and kill mold spores. Mold is notoriously hard to get rid of, because the microscopic spores make their way through the air and land again somewhere else in your home.
Along the way, they can cause all sorts of respiratory problems. While cheap air filters won’t do the trick, an air purifier with a true HEPA filter will trap mold spores and quickly kill them, because of the extremely dry environment inside the filter.
You’ll still have to do the hard work when it comes to bleaching and scrubbing bathroom tile and window sills, but the bright side is that you’ll remove mold for good, instead of temporarily.
Q: Can an air purifier alleviate mold and mildew allergies?
A: Air purifiers do a great job removing mold spores from the air, which can substantially reduce the degree to which mold irritates your lungs and the rest of your respiratory tract. However, an air purifier can’t actually kill mold where it is growing—it can only capture mold spores that get kicked up into the air. If you are living in an old house or an older apartment building and you think you have problems with mold, an air purifier is a good place to start, but to completely eliminate the problem, you’ll have to identify where the mold itself is growing. That’s likely to be somewhere that’s exposed to a lot of moisture, and not much in the way of fresh air circulation.
Q: Do air purifiers really make a difference?
A: Air purifiers can make a world of a difference if you have an allergy to pollen, mold spores, or pet dander, or if you have odors and particulate matter circulating in the air inside your home. However, air purifiers can’t work miracles. If you have a huge old house that’s full of mold, or if your roommate is a chain smoker, an air purifier can only do so much. As a general rule, air purifiers can remove pollutants from the air, but if you don’t at least substantially reduce the source of the pollutant, you’ll always be behind the curve when it comes to keeping your air clean.
Q: What does an air purifier do?
A: Air purifiers work to remove pollutants and irritants from the air in two stages. First, a fan passes the air through a coarse-grained pre-filter, usually made of or coated with activated charcoal.
This pre-filter removes larger dust particles and hair, which helps extend the life of the second stage HEPA filter. The activated carbon in the first layer of filtration also traps volatile organic compounds that contribute to odors.
These “VOCs” can come from interior paint and adhesives, or from environmental irritatnts like cigarette smoke. Next, the air is passed through the HEPA filter, which traps small particulates by impacting them against the walls of the filter.
Unlike a traditional sieve-like filter, a HEPA filter uses molecular adhesion forces to keep small particles from things like mold spores, bacteria, and smoke trapped inside the filter. This is how HEPA-based air purifiers are able to maintain a high rate of air filtration while capturing very small particles in the air.
Q: Are air purifiers useful for people with allergies?
A: Air purifiers can be use lifesaver for people with allergies, either seasonal allergies to pollen or pet allergies. Since allergies are triggered by microscopic particles that float around in the air (pollen in the case of seasonal allergies, and dander in the case of pet allergies), air purifiers are particularly well-suited for removing these particles from the air.
An air purifier with a true HEPA filter can trap pollen or dander inside the HEPA unit, keeping it from circulating in the air and triggering the immune reaction that causes allergies in your body.
Q: Can air purifiers remove smoke from the air?
A: Air purifiers can remove some, but not all, of the toxic compounds generated by cigarette smoke (or other sources of smoke).
Air purifiers are great for taking out small particulates, like those that are found in smoke, and can also filter out some of the chemical compounds that are generated in cigarette smoke. However, no consumer-grade air purifier can perfectly remove these chemical compounds.
Nevertheless, when faced with the choice of breathing air in a home where cigarettes are smoked as-is, or breathing the same air after it’s been passed through an air purifier, the air purifier is definitely the better choice. All else equal, cleaner air is going to be better for your body, even if it’s not 100% devoid of smoke.
Q: How do you use an air purifier?
A: Air purifiers are pretty simple to use: all you need to do is make sure the air purifier you have selected is rated for the volume of the room you are using it in, then plug it in and run it at for at least twelve hours a day (less may work if the room is small and your air purifier is rated for a larger room than you are using it in).
If you have an efficient air purifier that has a low-speed setting, you can just run it all day long. Maintenance-wise, you should make sure you change out the pre-filter and the HEPA filter when indicated by the machine—typically, pre-filters need to be changed every three months or so, while the HEPA filter needs to be replaced every 1-3 years.
Q: What is an ionizing air purifier?
A: Ionizing air purifiers use electrostatic attraction to trap particles to electrostatically charged plates. Incoming air is ionized, and then the charged particles stick to the charged plates inside the filter.
While this approach is effective, it has the unfortunate consequence of generating ozone—while you’re probably most familiar with ozone as an environmental threat, it also aggravates asthma and causes lung damage when you breath it in.
So, because of the downsides of ozone generation, we did not include any ionizing air purifiers on our rankings of the top air purifiers of the year, opting instead for true HEPA filters only.
Q: What is a HEPA filter?
A: HEPA is an acronym that stands for high-efficiency particulate arrestance. HEPA is a formally defined standard, so companies can’t advertise an air purifier as “HEPA” unless it meets these stringent standards for particulate filtration.
However, some less scrupulous manufacturers get around this by advertising their product as “HEPA-like”, which means the product is designed in the style of a HEPA filter but does not meet the official standards.
HEPA filters are particularly good for filtering out mold spores, bacteria, small particulates from smoke, and pollen, dander, or other allergens. These properties make it a highly desirable component for an air purifier.
An air purifier is a great investment in your health and your home. Air purifiers can vastly improve your indoor air quality by filtering out smoke, pollen, dander, volatile organic compounds, dust, and mold spores.
All of these can cause a host of health problems, both in the short term and years down the road. Whether you want to improve asthma symptoms, reduce allergies, or simply remove musty and smoky odors from your home, an air purifier is the way to go.
Make sure you get a high-quality air purifier that uses a true HEPA filter in combination with pre-filtration and activated charcoal for optimal results–this is the best way to remove all of the harmful compounds that can contaminate indoor air.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 air purifier recommendation, click here.